'The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari' review: In the forest wild

The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari Donald Anderson with Joshua Mathew Indus Source Books ₹650  

It is never easy being a famous man’s son, and this is evidenced by Donald Anderson, son of Kenneth Anderson, the latter being a prolific hunter-writer. Kenneth roamed India’s forests, blending imagination and non-fiction to create juicy, readable jungle stories. Not only did Donald grow up in his father’s shadow, as the eponymous ‘Last White Hunter’, he also lived largely through a time of privilege and reach (1934-2017).

Approaching a book like this, which is Donald Anderson’s life story — placing hunting and the colonial presence on a pedestal, is tricky. On no account is a white hunter just a hunter — he is a ‘dorai’ and land-owner, a white man with both rank and privilege. But this book is more about jungle-knowledge and real peril, giving us a ground view of often dangerous forest life.

At the same time, it is equally relevant to place such an account within the perspective of the unwanted — privilege-laced colonialism, the centreing of humans in the middle of the forest world, race-based licence and a certain bloodthirst.

What redeems the book is Donald’s wry, self-effacing tone: “I have lived a decadent, selfish life, taking and doing what I wanted.” What would also interest readers is the portrait of Kenneth as the father. Donald doesn’t pretend even momentarily to be a better hunter, jungle-tracker, or even a better man. There is affection and admiration in the way he describes his father, devoting a chapter to him. Kenneth led a very frugal existence, becoming the “anti-thesis of dorai (hunter) in those days,” he says. He describes Kenneth as feeling remorse every time he shot an animal. A poem written by Kenneth, called The Panther’s Requiem, is produced in the book. “Though this poem is written from the panther’s perspective, I believe the message is universal, implicitly echoing his lament that humans are responsible for creating situations that make animals appear as villains,” Donald says on his father’s poem.

The book carries the smells and sounds of the forest. Donald speaks of the “2000 year old Dodda Sampige tree” in Biligiriranga hills in Karnataka. Sometimes, his descriptions of forest people are more interesting than the natural history. He describes Soligas who wash their hair with milk, raising a hellish scent, and speaks of how the tribal people do not attach stigma to disease in the way non-tribals do.

However, the book is a tad too long and indulgent, never reaching its full potential, and needed much tighter editing. As a piece of pure history though, it will take you to a time when India’s wilderness and life was very different — even if it is traced through the eyes of a “selfish man”.

The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari; Donald Anderson with Joshua Mathew, Indus Source Books, ₹650.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:58:32 AM |

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